President Barack Obama is passionate about providing a good example to his daughters, and – indeed – to families all over the United States. Perhaps this passion sprang from the fact that his father left the family early in Barack’s life and he watched his mother struggle to give the family what they needed.
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a mother from Kansas and a father who was from Kenya who came to Hawaii on a scholarship. Barack Obama, Sr., married Ann Dunham, from Wichita, Kansas while they were both enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. When little Barack was two-years-old, his father and mother divorced and his father moved on to Connecticut to continue his education and then eventually back to Kenya.
Young Barack was raised by his single mother and her parents, not knowing until many years later what happened to his father. Like many young men abandoned by a divorced father, Barack tended to think of his father as a fantasy figure, but learned later that his father had left behind a string of failed marriages and families when he died in an automobile accident in Kenya in 1982.
The following excerpts come from a speech when Obama – then Democratic Senator of Illinois and soon to be President – gave on Father’s Day 2008 at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago.
“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.
“But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.
“I know what it means to have an absent father, although my circumstances weren’t as tough as they are for many young people today. Even though my father left us when I was two-years-old years old, and I only knew him from the letters he wrote and the stories that my family told.
“I was luckier than most. I grew up in Hawaii, and had two wonderful grandparents from Kansas who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me — who worked with her to teach us about love and respect and the obligations we have to one another. I screwed up more often than I should’ve, but I got plenty of second chances.
“And even though we didn’t have a lot of money, scholarships gave me the opportunity to go to some of the best schools in the country. A lot of kids don’t get these chances today. There is no margin for error in their lives. So my own story is different in that way.
“Still, I know the toll that being a single parent took on my mother — how she struggled at times to the pay bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play. And I know the toll it took on me. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle — that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls; that if I could give them anything, I would give them that rock — that foundation — on which to build their lives.
“The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy — the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft — that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.
“But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down — you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.
“And by the way — it’s a responsibility that also extends to Washington. Because if fathers are doing their part; if they’re taking our responsibilities seriously to be there for their children, and set high expectations for them, and instill in them a sense of excellence and empathy, then our government should meet them halfway.
“We should be making it easier for fathers who make responsible choices and harder for those who avoid them. We should get rid of the financial penalties we impose on married couples right now, and start making sure that every dime of child support goes directly to helping children instead of some bureaucrat. We should reward fathers who pay that child support with job training and job opportunities and a larger Earned Income Tax Credit that can help them pay the bills.
“We should expand programs where registered nurses visit expectant and new mothers and help them learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after — programs that have helped increase father involvement, women’s employment and children’s readiness for school. We should help these new families care for their children by expanding maternity and paternity leave, and we should guarantee every worker more paid sick leave so they can stay home to take care of their child without losing their income.
“We should take all of these steps to build a strong foundation for our children. But we should also know that even if we do; even if we meet our obligations as fathers and parents; even if Washington does its part, too, we will still face difficult challenges in our lives. There will still be days of struggle and heartache. The rains will still come and the winds will still blow.
“And that is why the final lesson we must learn as fathers is also the greatest gift we can pass on to our children — and that is the gift of hope. I’m not talking about an idle hope that’s little more than blind optimism or willful ignorance of the problems we face. I’m talking about hope as that spirit inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us if we’re willing to work for it and fight for it – if we are willing to believe.
“I was answering questions at a town hall meeting in Wisconsin the other day and a young man raised his hand, and I figured he’d ask about college tuition or energy or maybe the war in Iraq. But instead he looked at me very seriously and he asked, ‘What does life mean to you?’
“Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for that one. I think I stammered for a little bit, but then I stopped and gave it some thought, and I said this:
‘When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me — how do I make my way in the world, and how do I become successful and how do I get the things that I want.’
“’But now, my life revolves around my two little girls. And what I think about is what kind of world I’m leaving them. Are they living in a country where there’s a huge gap between a few who are wealthy and a whole bunch of people who are struggling every day? Are they living in a country that is still divided by race? A country where, because they’re girls, they don’t have as much opportunity as boys do? Are they living in a country where we are hated around the world because we don’t cooperate effectively with other nations? Are they living a world that is in grave danger because of what we’ve done to its climate?’
“And what I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children — all of our children — a better world. Even if it’s difficult. Even if the work seems great. Even if we don’t get very far in our lifetime.
“That is our ultimate responsibility as fathers and parents. We try. We hope. We do what we can to build our house upon the sturdiest rock. And when the winds come, and the rains fall, and they beat upon that house, we keep faith that our Father will be there to guide us, and watch over us, and protect us, and lead His children through the darkest of storms into light of a better day. That is my prayer for all of us on this Father’s Day, and that is my hope for this country in the years ahead. May God bless you and your children.”
Barack married Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in October of 1992. When they met, Michelle was working for a law firm in downtown Chicago where Obama was a summer associate. She was his advisor in the firm for the summer experience. Michelle and Barack have two children:
-Malia Ann Obama was born in 1999.
-Natasha (Sasha) Obama was born in 2001.
The Obamas lived on Chicago’s South Side, and, after Barack was elected to the U.S. Senate, they opted to keep the family in Chicago rather than moving to Washington. Michelle indicates that the decision to stay in Chicago was made to provide family stability for the girls.
Upon his election as the 44th President of the United States in November 2008, President and First Lady Obama moved Malia and Natasha into the White House. One of the first things the couple did was adopt family dog Bo, build a play area for the girls and plant a garden on the capitol grounds. This reflects the Obamas’ passionate belief in family continuity and in vigorous physical exercise and healthy eating habits.
Barack Obama sponsored the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2007 as a U.S. Senator. This bill was designed to “remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, ensure that support payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies, fund support services for fathers and their families, and support domestic violence prevention efforts.”
As president, Obama signed this bill into law and continues to implement innovative measures to strengthen families.
Obama also supports expanded tax credits for college education expenses, living wage, expanded Earned Income Tax Credits, and universal healthcare. He and his allies fought hard – and won – universal healthcare for U.S. citizens with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
About Fatherhood.com: Barack Obama on Fatherhood.
Politico.com: The Entire Text of the 2008 Obama Speech.
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